Thoughts on the Privilege of a Fortieth Birthday

So today I turn 40. It’s not like this surprised me. I knew it was coming. And being a writer, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, an occupational hazard. I didn’t expect this milestone day to bother me and it doesn’t particularly. But I just had to write down some of these thoughts, to get them out of my head and share them with whomever might be reading, another occupational hazard.

The first, of course, is the requisite retrospective inventory of my life. Things have not turned out the way I planned for my life when I was 15 or even when I was 25 but I’m happy where I am. I won’t say I don’t have any regrets (because I do) and I won’t say I wouldn’t have done anything differently (because I definitely would) but, on balance, my life on this milestone birthday is pretty darn good.

Then there is the number itself. When I was a kid watching TV in the 80s, it was a brave thing for Linda Evans to say “40 isn’t fatal” in a commercial for hair color. It is most definitely odd to think back to that time now that I am 40, and to try to reassemble what I thought being that age would be like. Whatever I imagined isn’t what happened, that’s for sure. It’s also odd to ponder that I can remember very clearly my mother when she was 40. To be honest, she seemed then to have a much better handle on this idea of being an “adult” than I often feel now. But I guess that’s how it should be?

The most powerful and recent of these thoughts, though, is that not everybody gets the privilege of turning 40. I was reminded of this the painful way the weekend of July 4 when I learned that one of my niece’s beloved dance teachers and choreographer had been killed in a traffic accident. This wonderful young woman is described in this blog post by her friend’s mother [picked up by Huffington Post] and when I read her post, I realized that Miss Britni (as she’ll always be known to me because of her dance girls) will never even reach her 30th birthday. I’m not entirely sure that I met Miss Britni in person because the dance performances I’ve attended have always been very chaotic and my focus was always on my niece. But I knew her through the performances she choreographed, the skills she taught, and the confidence she gave to so many young dancers, including one very special 12-year-old near and dear to my heart.

The 2015 tap competition routine choreographed by Miss Britni.

The 2015 tap competition routine choreographed by Miss Britni.

But I’m not one to follow up this realization with the cliché to “live like you’re dying” because there is so much in life to look forward to and so many things worth doing and learning that take time. Reading a long, involved novel series. Learning a new complicated dance combination. Practicing for the yearly recital. Waiting in great anticipation for the new Star Wars movie to be released. Earning a university degree. Those things, and many more, are worth the long view. So if I’ve taken any lesson from this loss, today on my 40th birthday, it’s to both be grateful for today and to look forward to what’s next, because not everybody gets that chance.

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